You can't say that Little Dragon likes to play follow the leader. Rather they have the pan pipe and are leading us down a cobble stoned path of left field grooves and moods, and for the most part they have succeeded in the hypnotism. Since 2007, the Swedish brood, consisting of vocalist Yukimi Nagano, drummer Erik Boden, bassist Fredrick Wallin, and keyboardist Håkan Wirinstrand, have become darlings of music festivals and the indie music circuit, cutting innovative albums that have them completely chameleonic and kinetically brash. The New Wave rumpus of their last release, 2011's Ritual Union had them at their most vibrant yet, and it was a collection that seemed to hint at Little Dragon's wink towards mainstream accolade. For Nabuma Rubberband, their fourth collection, they still wink at the prospect of finding aural accessibility, but if you're looking for them to surge on electricity, you need to dim the lights and prepare for the slow dance.
Little Dragon have slipped into the shadows before, observing as cerebral wallflowers on their 2007 self-titled debut, and for Nabuma Rubberband they retreat back to the slow churn aesthetic of their debut album, or rather the origins of "Twice", their breakout single. The nakedly yearning "Twice" became a sort of indie cred initiation hymn for the unconventional artiste, as its been re-recorded numerous times by the varying likes of The Robert Glasper Experiment, Waterstrider, and Lianne La Havas, and it's a well-composed muse that almost painted Little Dragon in a melodramatic corner as the later projects Ritual Union and 2010's Machine Dreams retaliated against the brooding lushness of their debut. With Rubberband, they have pulled back, in a sense, to that era and their influence is not only of their past selves, but is also gathered from an unlikely source.
Nagano noted that "when you put some of Janet [Jackson]'s really slow stuff on, you feel like you’re floating," and therein lies the thesis of Nabuma Rubberband as the group captures expertly well the nocturnal movements of Janet Jackson's more morose, insulated ballads, culling ideals mostly from her Rhythm Nation years (pay close attention to "Come Back To Me", "Lonely", and "Someday Is Tonight"). Digital pinballs aren't heavily present, unless you count the percussive bop of "Klapp Klapp" and the spangled romp of "Paris", which is the poppiest Little Dragon have ever sounded. Also the symphonic steadiness of the album's title track has a retro feel to it, an almost 1960s girl group croonage that is updated to match Gen Y toil tales. For the most part, Nagano slips into a pronounced vocal drawl reminiscent of Miss Jackson, carrying the album into a quixotic and soulful spin with highlights like "Pretty Girls", "Pink Cloud", and "Cat Rider" that entice you to sink into their plush and introspective interiors.
Most impressive is the album opener, the passive-aggressive "Mirror", a macabre moment that has the feel of walking down a dark hall, impending doom pelting from all sides, as it paces along. Nagano tries on some operatic vocal stretches and as the song ascends and crashes with the biting line: "You’re gonna make me put my fist through this mirror" and the whole set-up has the ambitious feel of Kate Bush clinging glasses with Björk.
Nabuma Rubberband isn't the easiest of Little Dragon albums to get into as the foursome indulge deep into their conjoined psyches. It almost feels intrusive, as we peer and find footing into this album that feels like a loaded whispered secret, where songs are landscaped, wide, almost to where they blend into one, especially on first sitting. When the final song, the finest of the bunch, "Let Go", the door is opened, oxygen rushes through, as the secret is told, and it's now safe to sway into its buoyant net of synths. Still don't let the gravity bring you down, Little Dragon's art is in how they manage mystique, even during exposing moments, and Nabuma Rubberband is able to find that balance and then some. An album for the lonely hunters looking to spear the floating heart, Little Dragon have hit their bliss spot just right with this one.
Release Date: May 13, 2014
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